Automatic lawn mower viral video

Last week I posted a video to YouTube of a dumb experiment I did with my lawn mower:

There’s not much to it, really. I just set a couple of stakes in the middle of the yard and tethered the mower to them. I clamp the self-propel lever in the “on” position, and let the rope wrap around the center pivot, cutting a smaller circle on each lap.

What’s funny is that this video has gone somewhat viral. Between the original YouTube post, a few (authorized) reposts by the Cheezburger network, the video has been viewed well over a quarter million times in the past week. It’s also been posted on facebook profiles 2000+ times as well as making the rounds on Twitter, etc. It never ceases to amaze me what people find amusing! I’ve put WAY more effort into posted content that hasn’t had 1/1000th the public interest.

At any rate, thanks to the Cheezburger Network for originally posting the video! Check out some of the links below, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll get a kick out of the comments!

Original video:

Blog posts by Cheezburger Network:

Reposted videos:

Other blog entries:

DIY cyclone dust separator for shop vac

A week ago, I spent the day in the garage doing some woodworking. I was using the table saw, miter saw and router table, creating a lot of dust. For my health, I hooked up the shop vac to the tools to collect the saw dust.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t satisfied with the results. The brand new filter in my shop vac quickly filled with fine sawdust. As soon as that happens, the suction drops off dramatically.

After a little bit of research online, I built a cyclone dust separator:

Cyclone dust separator

This contraption sits inline with the shop vac removes most of the sawdust and wood chips before they reach the vacuum’s tub or filter. It cost about $25 to build and despite my careless engineering and construction it works perfectly!

Visit the project page for more details.

Using ice as truck bed ballast

A couple of days ago, a friend and I were talking about putting extra weight in our pickup truck beds for added traction for winter driving. I’ve usually put a few hundred pounds of concrete blocks back there, but the problem is storing those blocks when not in use. I have to carry them out to the shed, which isn’t fun.

We came up with the idea of using ice, since it packs a fair amount of weight into a small space, it’s easy to load (use a hose), requires no room to store, and is even easier to unload (it just melts when it warms up).

One way that would probably work would be a use a tarp or piece of plastic sheet to trap some water in the bed and let it freeze in place. I didn’t have any handy, nor could I think of an easy way to keep it in a small space, so I used another approach.

Ice blocks in truck bed

I had a stack of 5 gallon buckets that kitty litter came in, so I filled them with water and let them sit for a couple of days. In about two days (around 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside) they were frozen solid. I turned them over and without too much trouble the ice slid out of the buckets. The picture above shows 7 buckets worth, which is around 300 pounds. Over the axle would be most effective, but the front of the bed works too, and leaves me more useful room in the bed.

Sterilite storage tubs

For several years we’ve been buying the 18-gallon Sterilite plastic storage totes. They’ve offered the same grey tubs (item #1815) for years, and we’ve bought dozens of them. They sell for around $4 and are roughly 24 inches long, 18 inches wide, and exactly 15-3/8 inches tall. Because of this de facto standardization, I’ve built wooden shelves in my garage, in the basement and in most of our closets specifically sized for these tubs, with 16 inch spacing between the shelves for optimal storage efficiency. Almost everything we store is in these tubs.

About a week ago, I bought a bunch more since we’re doing some organizing. Tonight I went to put a tub of out-of-season clothes on one of the shelves and got a nasty surprise: the tubs have been slightly redesigned and are 3/4 of an inch taller. The lid is identical to the old model, and the stated capacity is still 18 gallons, but it’s now taller than my shelves. D’oh…

I’ve got a lot of shelves built for these tubs, probably about 40 tubs of storage capacity. My choices are to take the new tubs back and HOPE to find some (read: a lifetime supply) of the old ones, or do a ton of shelf rebuilding. I checked on Walmart’s website, and there are still some in stock, but not within 50 miles. Shipping is a possibility, but it’s a little pricey.

I guess there is a third choice: a grassroots effort to get Sterilite to return to the old design. Hopefully this inconsequential blog post, along with the nearly dozen people who will likely read it, will do the trick…

Top online apps and services

In a recent post, I shared my favorite iPod Touch applications, which is a list of software that I find myself recommending to others who have an iPod Touch or an iPhone. It occurred to me that there are a number of online applications that I can’t do without, but when I mention some of them in casual conversation, I’ve found that a lot of people haven’t heard of them.

Here is a list of my favorite free online services. These services can be accessed from anywhere you have access to a web browser, and I use most of them on a daily basis. You might notice some duplication to the applications I listed in my iPod apps post, but that’s mostly because I gravitated to many of the iPod apps because of my love of the online services they worked with.



I’m sure you’ve heard of Gmail, so there’s not really any point of me telling you about it. The big selling points for me are the excellent spam filtering and the free IMAP access. Using IMAP, you can view all of your mail folders, not just the inbox, using a mail client application. It works great on my iPod. While we’re on the topic of iPods, the iPod contacts information will also sync with Gmail’s address book, which saves a lot of duplicated effort.

Google Calendar


You’ll probably notice a theme with the first four items on this list, but Google Calendar is, in my opinion, a nice straightforward calendar application. My favorite feature is its ability to act like an Exchange Server, so if you have a calendar application (again, like the one on the iPod Touch) that can sync with an Exchange server, it’ll work fine with a Google calendar. Also, I recently discovered that if I invite my work email account (which uses Lotus Notes…) to a Google Calendar meeting, it will add it to my work calendar.

Google Reader


Google Reader is an RSS reader and aggregator. If there are news sites, blogs, webcomics, etc. that you like to read, chances are they expose a “RSS feeds.” If you subscribe to these feeds using Google Reader (or any RSS reader for that matter), you can keep track of what entries you’ve read and which you haven’t. Likewise you only need to go to one place to read all your content. Why Google Reader specifically? Well, it’s convenient, since I use so many other Google services, and also because it works with Byline on my iPod.

Google Docs


If you’ve never used an online document editor, you might be surprised how full-featured they’ve become. Using Google Docs, I store and edit a number of “Word”-type documents and spreadsheets in the web browser. I haven’t put all of my documents online, nor do I intend to. What I do put there are documents like the spreadsheet I use to track my vehicles’ gas mileage and our shopping list. The gas mileage spreadsheet I like to be able to update from anywhere, so that I can record my fill-up before I misplace the receipt. The shopping list is a document I keep on my account, and I’ve got it set up to share with my wife. We can both add and remove items (using our own accounts), and there’s no manual merging of lists.



Among other things, Dropbox is an online service that lets you place some files online and retrieve them from a web browser. Even though there are applications for your computer and iPod to sync your files, I mostly use the online features. One of the main things I use Dropbox for is keeping my collection of batch files, scripts and other tools that I never know where I’m going to need them.



Toodledo is a web-based task list with several integration points with other systems and services. Its a fairly new alternative to Remember The Milk (which I used for quite a while), but it has some great features. It can show your tasks on your Google Calendar on the day that they are due, notify you using SMS/email/etc., and sync with an iPod Touch app (which isn’t free, but is very cheap). One of the main reasons I like Toodledo is their concept of “contexts” for each task. For instance, if you’re sitting at your desk at work, there’s no point in seeing tasks that you need to do at home, and if you’re out running errands, it’s nice to know what tasks you need to be out of the house to perform. Context divide your tasks into group like these.



Last on the list, but only because I just recently discovered it, is LogMeIn. LogMeIn is a remote access tool, and it’s free for personal use. Using their service, I can access and control (for instance) my home PC from my desk at work or I can troubleshoot my family’s computers without the need to travel. You have to install a small application on the PC that you intend to control, but nothing needs to be installed on the PC that you’re controlling from. It even works, albeit not quite as smoothly, if you have ActiveX and Java disabled on the client PC. I was surprised how easy it was to set up; you don’t even have to manually open ports on your firewall or set up port forwarding on your router.

As with all online resources, there’s always a chance that these services will cease to exist, so if you use them, please be careful to keep local backups of anything that’s important to you. Each of these services does have a mechanism for making backups, but I haven’t streamlined all of them yet. That will be a topic for another day.

Aren’t reverse lights sacred?

Over the past couple of weeks, there have a fair number of occasions where I thought someone was going to back out of a parking spot while I was approaching. Of course, I stopped to avoid get hit, but then I noticed that the driver is out of the car and walking toward the store.

Maybe I just haven’t been all that observant before, but what seems to be happening is that the clear reverse/backup lights on the rear of the vehicle are being turned on as a sort of courtesy light. My truck, for instance, leaves the headlights on for a minute after I lock the doors, which I assume is to illuminate my surroundings as I leave the vehicle. It’s a logical extension of the same principle to use the reverse lights for this purpose as well.

The problem is, reverse lights already mean something: the vehicle is in reverse. Moreover, when the reverse lights are used as courtesy lights, the brake lights and other tail lights are not on. What that means to me is: the vehicle is in reverse, AND the brakes have been released. In other words, “I’m coming back right now!”

The vehicle I can remember off the top of my head that exhibited this behavior was a Pontiac Torrent SUV. I don’t remember what the other vehicles were. Does anyone know what’s going on? This feature just seems like a really poor choice to me.

On a totally unrelated note, I’m going to wire my turn signals to flash with the beat any time my car stereo is on.

New popup camper article on Wikipedia

I am now officially a Wikipedia contributer. Tonight I submitted my article on popup campers on Wikipedia. I’m surprised that no one had ever written one up until now, but hopefully my submission will be deemed worthy and not deleted. I included a couple of pictures of our popup, since it’s easiest to use your own “work” (otherwise getting permission is a bit more convoluted).

This is my first real contribution to Wikipedia, and I’m neither a professional writer nor a world-wide expert on popups, so help out the article if you can!